Tag Archives: Branding

Brand the Jewels – How RTJ Stole Hip-Hop’s Crown

How We Got Here

Hip-hop dynasties aren’t supposed to start like this.

A Tribe Called Quest formed between high school classmates. Run-D.M.C. began when two kids from Hollis, Queens recruited Jam Master Jay shortly after starting college. And thanks to “Straight Outta Compton”, even your little sister is now familiar with the origin story of N.W.A.

Since hip hop’s Golden Age, Brooklyn’s El-P (Jaime Meline) was blazing new trails for alternative music by experimenting with dystopian beats and delivering paranoid lyrics with stream-of-consciousness ferocity. While releasing several fantastic albums for himself and others on his Definitive Jux label, El Producto never gained widespread acclaim beyond his underground notoriety.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Killer Mike (Michael Render) was earning his moniker, murdering on wax with guest appearances on OutKast cuts while scoring a minor radio hit on his debut album in 2003. But similarly, Mike never realized his full potential, dwelling on the “LA Clippers” of record labels with little fanfare.

It wasn’t until a chance introduction in 2011 by Cartoon Network exec Jason DeMarco that Jaime and Mike (then both in their mid-thirties) finally began collaborating on Mike’s masterpiece “R.A.P. Music”. Since then, the duo has formed into the “new Avengers” of rap; a supergroup that has taken the hip hop world by storm with two classic albums and a third on its way for early 2017.

How They Did It

Run the Jewels functions as far greater than the sum of its parts – not only sonically, but also as a brand. Here are some of the things they are doing right that marketers can draw inspiration from.

1. Iconography

The name “Run the Jewels”, inspired by an LL Cool J lyric, perfectly captures the hardcore, take-no-prisoners mentality that Mike and El-P take on when they step in the booth. It’s badass at its surface while respecting old school hip hop culture the way both emcees do.

Taking it a step further, the duo developed a logo which can be easily reproduced by RTJ and fans alike as a hand gesture. It’s literal, instantly memorable, and has been successfully been reproduced with alternating styles of hands since the original version that graced their debut album cover. The teal green zombie hands have already inspired a curated assortment of RTJ merch by Daylight Curfew including sticker packs, a “Love Again” duvet cover, bandanas and countless hoodies.

Their unique style has already inspired some amazing Marvel Comics tributes on covers of Deadpool and Howard the Duck.

2. Creativity

Releasing music for fans to download free online isn’t exactly a new concept, but that’s exactly what Killer Mike and El-P gave to fans for RTJ1 and RTJ2. Nor is it unique to up-sell “bonus packages” to hardcore fans, offering the music in various formats and bundled up with merch. But our fearless heroes took things way further than that… here are just a few highlights of such packages:

* This package inspired a successful Kickstarter campaign, garnering over 2,800 backers and raising over $65,000 (the profit from which was donated to help provide legal support for social activists). And yes, “Meow the Jewels” is real.

More recently, Run the Jewels became one of the first brands to experiment with virtual reality, releasing a video for “Crown” that works with NYT VR.

3. Relevance

If embracing tech’s hottest trend and delivering on a fan-created crowdfunding campaign weren’t enough, Run the Jewels happen to be (arguably) the most socially relevant group in music today.

“Run the Jewels 2” (Pitchfork’s Best Album of 2014) took the dynamic duo to new heights, largely due to their aggressive social commentary on relevant topics. “Early” became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. “Lie, Cheat, Steal” explores corruption of the 1% (including Donald Sterling). Even the libidinous locker room boasts of “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” deferentially give way to a decidedly feminist third verse that would make even Sasha Fierce blush.

RTJ3 promises to continue this trend, with Mike rapping “Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan / He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan” on lead single “Talk to Me”. Shows in 2016, including Coachella, featured visuals of a demonic Donald Trump, and even their August appearance in Toronto inspired a rousing “fuck Trump” cheer.

Beyond the music, Killer Mike has become a high-profile social activist, whether it’s calling out Bill O’Reilly, speaking out about Ferguson, or talking shop with Bernie Sanders. Harking back to the era when hip hop’s greatest acts like Public Enemy were making political statements with their work, RTJ manages to weave these messages into music that’s also fun enough for a boisterous party.

Very few brands are able to effectively endear themselves with fans by openly supporting social or political causes – too often, it feels forced and inauthentic. However, hip-hop has a deep history of activism, Killer Mike has been rapping about the same topics for years, and the duo manages not to overextend themselves into any territory that feels too contrived.

4. Connection

In today’s post-iTunes landscape of pervasive streaming and YouTube sensations, it’s clear that artists need to engage with fans to stand out among the endless options. Similarly, the best brands recognize that meaningful connections need to be made in order to establish credibility and foster loyalty.

Killer Mike and El-P both seem to get it, as both artists have been active on Twitter since early 2009. More unusual is their mastery of email marketing. In a perfect example of quid pro quo, RTJ collected email addresses in exchange for free downloads of their first album back in 2013. Most fans forgot all about it for a while until September 2014 when they sent this masterful email thanking their fans and announcing the exclusive preorder packages of RTJ2.

The email-for-download was so successful that it drove a 66% lift in the Run the Jewels email list according to a case study on the MailChimp blog. Their emails aren’t overly frequent, they include relevant (and highly visual) content, and they arrive casually addressed by “Mike and El-P” or “Jaime and Mike”.

Extending their digital reach further, Mike and El-P have found a new home with Apple Music. Their WRTJ show on Beats 1 gave the duo yet another platform to showcase their personalities, share a curated mix of music that inspires them, and (often sarcastically) answer questions submitted by fans via Twitter.

Regardless of how long the RTJ phenomenon lasts, Jaime and Mike have proved their ability to create a brand that sets itself apart in the modern music industry with Run the Jewels. Marketers, take note.

Which artist/group are you most impressed with from a branding perspective? Share in the comments below!


How to Brand – Logo Design with Christopher Cheong

A brand is composed of many elements, all of which are important to the holistic perceptions that people will hold onto. A strong logo is often the primary identifier that helps consumers immediately recognize the values and personality of the brand that marketers work so hard to build.

The word “logo” is derived from the Greek logos (word) and typos (type). Modern logos have evolved to become expressed in many forms, sometimes as graphic representations and sometimes as wordmarks featuring the name of the brand.

Just like ad campaigns, logos can range from confusing and mundane to bold and inspiring. In this post, I chose to interview someone who knows a lot about creating the latter.Christopher Cheong

Christopher Cheong is a rising star within the design community of Toronto; a Graphic Designer at adidas who also produces freelance work for Nickelodeon. In 2010, Chris started Bear Kid, a clothing and lifestyle company featuring original designs of his own creation.

Where did you develop your passion for logo design?

Christopher: Growing up, my parents enrolled me into various sport leagues. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t the best at all the sports I took part in, but I did have a fascination with all of the team logos on our jerseys. Once I got my footing in creating graphics, I always found myself taking references to sport logos. I think it’s the fact that each team looks so unified; with the way the shapes, colours, and overall theme tie in together to make a cohesive brand. These are the things that drive me to logo design. The challenge of bringing everything a company stands for into one image entices me.

Many people view a logo as the primary visual symbol for a brand. Can you think of some examples of logos that stand out in truly aligning with their brand attributes?

Photo by Charlie Lyons-Pardue
Photo by Charlie Lyons-Pardue

Christopher: One logo that stands out to me would have to be the Philadelphia Flyers logo. Every time I see it I think about how well it was designed. It encompasses the “P”, the wings, and just enough shapes to include the city’s colour scheme of orange and black. Including all of the key elements is the easy part, it’s how you comprise all of the pieces together to make it visually appealing as well. The Philly logo definitely hits the nail on the head on that front as well.

Which logo that you’ve designed are you most proud of, and why?

Bean LinkChristopher: Out of all the logos I’ve designed, it’s hard to choose just one that I feel I’m the most proud of. It’s hard because I feel like every project I complete, I gain more experience to better myself for the next. So naturally I would choose the most recent logo I’ve done. But if I had to choose one, I would choose the logo I developed for a company called Bean Link (which has disbanded recently…but not because of my logo).

The reason why I enjoy this one the most is because I think it not only represents the company really well, but it’s a logo I was hired to do based on my illustration style. Being asked to do work based on your own style is the best because everything just becomes natural for you. It makes the job easier, and much more enjoyable.

Take us through the process of what you go through when you’re asked to design a logo.

Christopher: To start, I research. I look at what other similar companies are doing, and try to go against the grain yet still compete. Seeing what other companies are doing allows me to get the gears started and I can see what to do and what not to do.

Then I start the brainstorm session; sketching, thinking, and then more sketching. This part for me is the hardest because I feel that my skills don’t start kicking in until I bring into a digital space. Sometimes I can nail a solid concept in the first 3 sketches, and then other times I go to sleep stressed out and think to myself “I’m screwed”.

Once I get over the initial concept hump, it’s pretty smooth sailing for me. I know my way around the software enough that I can clean up the sketch and compose it into a nice, clean, tidy logo that they can use.

Do you have any advice on where people could get started if they wanted to develop a logo design (or redesign) for their brand?

Christopher: One thing for sure that I could suggest to people, that I feel is often overlooked, is to make sure that your logo works in black & white as well as small & large. Too often I see logos that look terrible small, or logos that need to be converted to white/black and no longer looks like the original, coloured version of the logo.

Also, making different variations of the same logo in different aspect ratios will help tremendously. In a world where there are multiple dimensions, it’s key to have a logo/design that works horizontally or vertically.

And lastly, I would have to say make sure you have a reason for a redesign. I see a lot of old companies rebranding themselves, trying to become new and fresh. Sometimes it works, but a lot of the times the redesign ends up sucking all the unique qualities the old, traditional logo had. (Re)Design should have purpose!

Check out more amazing logos and other designs on Christopher’s portfolio: http://twigs.bearkid.com/

Marketing Players of the Week – Back to the Future Edition

This week sees two iconic brands making plays to bring back some old magic – one more successfully than the other – and another brand joining in on the rebranding bandwagon with no apparent strategy.

In the spirit of Dr. Emmett Brown, let’s hop in the DeLorean and head “Back to the Future” with a couple brands trying to revisit their glory days of old…


“Happiness is a Warm Gun” – John Lennon

We all have our definitions of what happiness means. McDonald’s, similar to Coca-Cola, wisely focuses on the concept of happiness in much of their marketing; allowing a focus on lifestyle positioning and associating their brand with the most positive of emotions. Along with employing a decidedly happy clown mascot in Ronald McDonald, the QSR has been offering Happy Meals to kids since 1979.

Well, the representation of “Happy” depicted by McDonald’s Latin America happens to conjure up some contrasting feelings across the rest of the world – at least the Twitterverse. McDonald’s unveiled a global rollout of their new Happy Meal mascot, the aptly named “Happy”, via a tweet on Monday.

Twitter was ablaze with upset fans, many of whom claimed that the new character was “creepy” and something out of a nightmare. It’s hard to disagree – with a CGI face, bulding eyes atop its head, and a monsterous set of teeth, it looks more like a parody of kids’ mascots than a new development for the year 2014. Perhaps it’s due to cultural differences, but even if this succeeded in Latin America, it’s difficult to imagine the public warming up to this mascot north of the Mexican border.

I’m a big fan of McDonald’s marketing as of late, and it was relieving to see that they responded quickly with a tweet on Tuesday showing that they don’t take themselves too seriously with this latest effort.


A leader in Canadian photography retail, Blacks felt it was necessary to dramatically rebrand. You’d think that keeping a black logo would be a no-brainer for a company named Blacks, but the new branding prominently incorporates the colour teal. An article by Kristin Laird of Marketing Magazine reveals that this rebranding is part of a dramatic rethinking of the entire business, including a new website, mobile app, and overhaul of the existing store design.

While the logo is more modern and clean, and the colour teal stands out against competitor Henry’s retro orange, it’s a strange choice to use a serif font with an otherwise forward-thinking design. Strangely enough the teal is almost exactly the same shade as another retailer found in Canadian malls – DAVIDsTEA.

You can check out the beta site for Blacks and decide for yourself if the rebranding is a success. Meanwhile, their existing site remains loyal to the original (black) logo, albeit  with gratuitous splashes of teal – perhaps to ease the transition for loyal consumers.

Charlotte Hornets

Speaking of teal…

In NBA fan circles,  the Charlotte Hornets were the epitome of early ’90s cool. Attitude-laden players such as Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, Rex Chapman, and Glen Rice helped put the city of Charlotte on the league map as the expansion team gained the hearts of many. With a teal-and-purple colour scheme, pinstripe jerseys, and Johnson’s ‘Grandmama’, the team was as fun as a Fresh Prince re-run.

Things changed in North Carolina as the Hornets were moved to New Orleans and a new expansion was granted to the city of Charlotte in 20014: the Bobcats. A pedestrian name by sports standards was compounded by the fact that many believed the team was named to stroke the ego of its owner, Robert (Bob) Johnson.

After several forgettable seasons of obscurity, the team was purchased by Michael Jordan himself.  In 2013 he submitted an application to change the name back to the Hornets and “bring the buzz back” to the city sorely lacking any. Here we are in Charlotte’s offseason (after being swept 4-0 by the Heat), and the official announcement was made on Tuesday along with a big unveil of the new logo.

The decision has been met by plenty of fanfare and generally positive responses, as the logo is a new school reimagining of the original branding. It’s a much tougher, less cartoony hornet than the original, with sharp edges and a few nods to the original design elements – notably the return to the teal and purple colour scheme.

While they’ll need more than a rebranding to regain relevance on the basketball court, this serves its purpose for a fresh start to the franchise under Jordan’s reign, and an opportunity to win back their original fans in the city of Charlotte.

Do you have any thoughts on what constitutes a successful rebrand? Is “Happy” preventing you from sleeping at night? Leave a note in the comments!

Brand Spotlight – jetBlue Rises Above

Calm. Nice. Fresh. Stylish.

Those are four of the last words anyone would ever use to describe their typical airline experiences. Yet with jetBlue Airways, these are among the brand attributes.

The colour blue, in design theory, symbolizes peace & harmony and connotes feelings of relaxation. The company uses the colour blue in over 8 patterned examples, as shown in their Branding Guidelines below:

Photo Credit: jetBlue
Photo Credit: JetBlue


Their :60 “Flying Shouldn’t Ruffle Your Feathers” spot is brilliantly executed. While it doesn’t feature the hallmark blue as prominently, the ad succeeds by imagining a pigeon as a “frequent flyer”. It equates his drab, pedestrian experiences in the city with those all too familiar with long-suffering travellers.

While the pigeon-as-protagonist gag and extended metaphor are clever by themselves, the true excellence of this spot is how it brings the tagline to life. “Air on the Side of Humanity” is revealed in the final ten seconds of the spot, superimposed over the obviously non-human pigeon. If he isn’t satisfied with his pigeon-like city existence, why should we stand for lousy airline customer service?

The tagline draws roots from powerful idioms “err on the side of caution” and “to err is human”. As a believer in this line’s power as both a tagline and company mantra, I hope jetBlue continues to make use of it.

According to a blog post on their Brand Design team, jetBlue strives to “create an experience” for their customers, in hopes that every touchpoint in the user experience will be “friendly, consistent, and memorable“.

Have you had a customer experience with jetBlue that you’d like to share, or an opinion on their branding? Share in the comments!

Startup Branding in 4 Easy Steps

Want to be an instant billionaire? Startups are as hot as cornball machines right now, and the IPO game is bubbling exploding for new businesses! Now is the time to take advantage by creating your very own tech startup!

Don’t have a viable business idea? It’s ok, venture capitalists love taking gambles! Not sure you can handle running a business? Fear not, just fake it until you make it!

Now that you’ve got that settled, it’s time to get to it! Here’s how to brand your startup in 4 easy steps:

Step 1: Name Your Startup

First, pick a name of an animal, colour,  or place. Does it need to relate at all to the essence of your business? Of course not, don’t be naive! Let’s go with Possum for illustrative purposes – the more obscure and quirky, the better!

Photo by C Simmons / CC BY
This little guy looks deserving of an enterprise named after him, doesn’t he? Photo by C Simmons / CC BY

Second, you’ll need to add another word. Either pick another noun (for instance, a shape!) or let grammar inspire you by choosing a suffix. Why don’t we use Block, but misspelled as  Blok – bonus points for removing extra letters and sounding more European!

Putting them together, we have PossumBlok – note that these are combined to one compound word. The first letter of the second word remains capitalized, but of course this will all change when our new brand receives the logo treatment.

Note: if you urgently need to issue your IPO and don’t have time to choose two arbitrary words, try BuzzFeed’s Startup Name Generator. Pure gold.

Step 2: Choose Your Colours

Since we didn’t choose a colour as part of the compound word in our example above, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Blue Iris
A winning font

Paying no mind to our industry, positioning, or brand name, let’s choose a cheerful Pantone with a  pretentious name. How about Blue Iris 18-3943 (the 2008 Pantone Colour of the Year!); “a mix of blue and purple that suggests dependability and magic”? Splendid.

Step 3: Get ‘Fontsy’

If you’re serious about building the hottest startup on the block, the next step is picking a casual-yet-whimsical font.

Make sure to test both fancy-sounding placeholders and business buzzwords
Make sure to test both fancy-sounding placeholders and business buzzwords

Serif fonts are automatically ruled out – this is the 21st Century after all, not Olde England – so let’s find a sans-serif font. Voltaire seems to be oozing with the sense of self-assured swagger perfect for our brand.

Step 4: Design a Logo

The secret to designing the perfect startup logo is to always make it more simple. Italian designer Roberto Manzari feels that even Twitter’s blue bird logo is too complex, and released a proposal reducing it to geometric shapes.

Our shiny new logo
Our shiny new logo!

We simply take a quirky Blue Iris rectangle and adding circles to represent a possum’s nose and beady eyes, and “voila”, an icon is born!

Using our Voiltaire font, we can add the brand name (all lowercase, of course), and add some italics to emphasize how clever and cheeky we are for using a compound word.

And that’s it! All that’s left is finding some angel investors and filing for an IPO, and you can be a Silicon Valley gazillionaire just like Mark Zuckerberg!

Disclaimer: this post was written as a satire on some of the branding clichés I’ve noticed with startup companies, and is not intended to offend or bear resemblance to any existing real brands. For an actual, non-ironic guide for naming a company, check out 16 Tips for Picking the Perfect Startup Name on Mashable.

Marketing Players of the Week – March 16

You’re walking into an outrageously priced parking lot in Toronto, and from afar you notice a yellow ticket lodged under the windshield wipers of your car.

“Unbelievable”, you think to yourself, “How couldn’t those soulless parking officers notice my valid parking permit on the dashboard?”.

Embed from Getty Images

‘Need for Speed’ – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada

As explained in an article by Vanessa Milne at Marketing Magazine, this stunt was all part of a guerrilla marketing campaign for the new ‘Need for Speed’ film by DreamWorks Pictures. The yellow slip under unsuspecting drivers’ windshields actually was a ticket that could be submitted for an integrated contest. Drivers could simply share a photo of the faux infraction notice on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #NFSTICKET for a chance to win one of 50 prizes. I have yet to confirm whether the hashtag needed to be composed in ALL CAPS to be eligible.

This is a brilliant execution, in my opinion. It reaches auto users exclusively, in a highly personal way. These users were likely targeted by the types of car they drive and the area they parked in, allowing the street teams to hone in on exactly the segments that would most likely attend an endless car chase film like ‘Need for Speed’. It also completely disrupts the driver’s day (for a few moments) as they panic about potential fines; earning 100% of their attention when it happens. Adding a social sharing component for the contest only ensured this stunt had some wheels… so to speak.

Healthcare.gov – President Barack Obama & Funny or Die

You’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed the buzz around Obama’s ‘Between Two Ferns’ episode. The President collaborated with Zack Galifianakis and showcased his comic chops while admittedly putting in a “plug” for his Affordable Care Act and the now-working website.

Ken Wheaton of Ad Age argues in an article that although “amid international crisis the president’s playing cute for a web video”, this is a strong marketing play to reach Gen Xers and Millennials. Obama effectively conveys the benefits of the ACA without overselling it, and the video works as a piece of comedy content rather than just a “six-minute ad”. It paid immediate benefits too – with a clickable link at the end of the video, the episode helped healthcare.gov gain 40% more traffic on Tuesday. Not only that, but it helps further endear the Barack Obama brand to the millions of online viewers.

If you haven’t seen the episode yet, take a look here:

HappinessAlways.ca – Kelsey’s Canada

Speaking of weird hairy dudes, apparently the executives at Cara Foods decided they’d better get one of their own as a spokesman. The mystifying ‘Stu’ character was recently introduced with some online ads and his own neon-hued microsite – happinessalways.ca.

If anyone can explain the rationale behind this campaign, we would all be a little wiser. An obnoxious bearded man in a ski mask with half a bazaar on his backpack doesn’t appear at first glance to be the persona you’d want associated with your food brand, but perhaps there’s an insight this is based on. Maybe I’m not the target market, but if that’s the case it’s a shame Kelsey’s wasted so many pre-roll impressions on my behalf.


Anything to add on these brands? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Brand Spotlight: Hendrick’s Gin and the Peculiarly Powerful Postitioning

One of the hallmarks of a successful brand is achieving differentiation. And few brands embrace the concept of “different” more wholeheartedly than Hendrick’s Gin.

Most Peculiar, Indeed!

From first glance, Hendrick’s is not your typical gin. On shelf next to the translucent blue (Bombay Sapphire) and green (Tanqueray) as well as clear bottles (Beefeater et al), the dark apothecary-style bottle breaks through the clutter with its colour and unique shape.

The apothecary-style bottle of Hendrick's Gin
The apothecary-style bottle of Hendrick’s Gin

Old-fashioned typefaces for liquor brands are commonplace due to the established nature of the industry and emphasis on premium branding, but Hendrick’s labels feature a whimsy fit for 19th century royalty. It’s hard to believe that the brand was launched as recently as 1999, but with roots tracing back to 1860, nothing feels inauthentic. The diamond-shaped label even connotes ethereal qualities such as ‘illumination’ and ‘intelligence’ for the spirits brand.

The Unusual Times

The tag affixed to a Hendrick’s bottle neck looks and reads like “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”; a topsy-turvy circus roadshow of curiosity. Below is a sample of the writing style:

“A wondrous orchestra of 11 botanicals sets the stage for our pièce de résistance; two rather unusual, yet marvellous infusions.”

The tag further explains that this gin should be enjoyed with cucumber garnish rather than “humdrum limes” like their competitors, and includes a call to action of visiting the Hendrick’s “Curiositorium” online.

The landing page of hendricksgin.com consistently reflects their oddball branding, with many links to their blog “The Unusual Times”. The blog features truly strange but compelling content, with absurd stories such as “Crocodile Sighted in Bristol May Hold The Key To Solving The Mystery of The Devil’s Footprints” by dubious characters such as Hieronymus Stone (Editor in Chief).

Loved by a Tiny Handful of People

This wonderfully different branding would go to waste if this distiller attempted to appeal to the masses with a mainstream campaign, but all communications are apparently focused on a niche of affluent, worldly people with a discriminating taste for spirits and a Python-esque sense of humour.

The Hendrick’s Twitter account (@HendricksGin) has a following of 25.4K devoted fans, dwarfing their competitors which employ more traditional positioning. The lesson here? Untraditional branding and quirky content can help a brand secure a niche of valuable consumers. After all, it’s better to be loved by many (and perhaps hated by a few) than merely liked by everyone.


Do you have a favourite brand that stands out in their particular industry by being boldly different – peculiar, even? Share it in the comments!

Stand Out: Branding Lessons from the 2014 Oscar Winners

This year’s Academy Awards nominees for Best Picture were all marvels of modern cinema, but they couldn’t all be winners. While it would be satisfying to imagine that every member of the Academy selects the winners after careful scrutiny, the reality is far less ideal. Voters need to attest that they have seen all the films – but only in five categories (Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, and Foreign Language Film).

Just like job interviewees, romantic pursuits, and products at a store,  films are evaluated not only by their intrinsic qualities, but for the snap judgments that people make about them. Academy members who don’t have time to watch every single nominated film must then rely on decision-making heuristics, which means the role of branding is amplified when it comes to making an award-winning picture.

Here are some of the winners and what they did right in branding their films:

“12 Years a Slave” – Exclusivity

Since before its premiere, this was considered a contender for Best Picture for a number of reasons – all-star cast, acclaimed director, and the historically under-documented subject matter of slavery in America. But this was also not as widely released as some of the larger blockbuster titles, adding a factor of exclusivity/prestige. Despite being the Best Picture of 2013, this film only ranked #69 for the year at the box office and I could personally only find a select few theatres that aired it during opening weekend in October.

“Gravity” – Differentiation

While unlike “12 Years a Slave” in that it was a commercial success, raking in over $270 million globally at the box office, Alfonso Cuaron’s space thriller filled a thematic white space in the industry. With a simple title, Mexican director (how exotic!), and breathtaking cinematography, this film stood out for many good reasons.

“Dallas Buyers Club” – Shock & Awe

Touting both male actor Oscar winners from Sunday night, “Dallas Buyers Club” was a testament to the power of transformational performances. Matthew McConaughey lost 47 pounds for his role while Jared Leto donned a wig & dress as a transgender woman (on top of losing 30 pounds)! Moviegoers always tend to appreciate these types of roles where performers shift shapes, and have led to Academy Awards for actresses such as Renee Zellweger (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”, 2001) and Charlize Theron (“Monster”, 2003). It also certainly didn’t hurt that the film was about another topic deserving attention – AIDS awareness and public acceptance of homosexuality.

Next time you launch a product, think about the types of films that win Oscars. Then think “what are the qualities that win over audiences in my industry?”. With branding that stands out, you might have a winner on your hands!

Image: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

Thoughts on other ways this year’s Oscar nominees were branded? Add them in the comments.

Marketing Players of the Week – February 22

It’s almost over!

With the 2014 Sochi Olympics nearing a dramatic conclusion, those of us following the Games on TV or via streaming video have been assaulted by a litany of ambitious, patriotism-inducing ads. As Marketing alludes, some auto brands have taken a “different road”, thankfully.


I was impressed by the approach taken by BMW, using a voiceover speech of legendary futurist Arthur C. Clarke in conjunction with glossy, futuristic images. This spot re-introduces a powerful idea about how we imagine the future while effectively positioning their brand as forward-thinking and awe-inspiring.


The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Not only is Jimmy Fallon already making waves with videos from his new position of Tonight Show anchor going viral, but the transition was marked by a major rebranding for the longstanding late night show.

John Brownlee of Fast Company Co.Design published a great article with his take on the rebranding effort, but I would recommend reading the full article by Pentagram, the agency that honed the new branding. Not only does the show title change from “with Jay Leno” to “Starring Jimmy Fallon”, but the creative prominently features a full moon rising over New York (at 30 Rock, naturally).

Just for fun, you can check out “Hashtag #2” with starring Fallon and Jonah Hill here:


Molson Canadian

While I’ve already made it clear of my love for Budweiser Canada’s Olympic activation, Molson Coors is also making some major noise during the Sochi Olympics. Firstly, they recycled last year’s Canada Day stunt promotion where friends & family of athletes can unlock a red beer fridge – but only by using their Canadian passports.

More recently, the brand is aggressively touting their official sponsorship of the Canadian Olympic team; dropping the gloves against Budweiser in advance of the Canada vs. USA men’s hockey semi-finals. Reminding Canadian fans of Budweiser’s loyalty to the American team is a savvy move, although borders on being petty.


Does Molson deserve some time in the penalty box? Leave a comment with your opinion.

5 Elements for a Successful Brand

Brands have the power to transform ordinary things into something much bigger. Not only can an effective brand help differentiate a commodity good from others similar to it, but it can influence us to dramatically alter our own behaviours – from everyday purchase patterns to lifestyle.

Furthermore, brands can help forge our personal identities, win our hearts, and capture our collective imagination. If you find these claims too dramatic, consider the ongoing rivalry between your friends who are Android and Apple users, the passion of die-hard sports fanatics (Toronto Maple Leafs devotees claim to “bleed blue”), or perhaps the 126.5 million people that visited Disney theme parks in 2012 (Jeffers, Gene).

Without a doubt, great brands have the potential to resonate deeply and win our loyalty as consumers. Some of us in the marketing profession are lucky enough to represent these leading brands, while others have the opportunity to build as challengers or launch something new. We all stand to gain if we can help our brands connect with people more effectively.

1. Purpose

The elite brands have a true raison d’être; a reason for being that goes much deeper than the sole pursuit of profit. Their mission statements avoid the usual corporate BS, and instead explore a vision bigger than the products they are selling.

Coca-Cola strives “to refresh the world; to inspire moments of optimism and happiness; to create value and make a difference.” This vision is clearly reflected in both their marketing communications and charitable efforts – pretty noble for a manufacturer of carbonated sugar water!

2. A Remarkable Product

Mediocre, forgettable products are almost never successful in the long run.  In his bestseller Purple Cow,  Seth Godin writes about how to instill products (and services) with shareability. Steve Jobs famously obsessed over creating “insanely great” products, (don’t worry, remarkable products can be designed without Jobs’ near-sociopathic attention to detail). Find the edge of your industry and take it one step further, or go the opposite direction of your competition.

Montreal startup Frank & Oak has succeeded in starting a remarkable business model – members of their Hunt Club can select trendy, affordable men’s clothing every month to try on at home. Crates of apparel are shipped directly to users’ doorsteps and members can choose to ship any unwanted merchandise back to their warehouse, free of charge.

3. Authenticity

As consumers, we hate when big corporations act with hypocrisy and claim to be something they’re not. Authenticity ultimately means getting real with your consumers – treating them less like “targets” and instead as real people. Rather than assuming their consumers are easily duped sheep, smart marketers choose to recognize how savvy their loyal fans really are, and respect them with transparent and honest communications.

McDonald’s Canada won a plethora of coveted marketing awards for their 2012 “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign. The fast food giant surprised many by publicly hosting consumer questions about their food, openly responding to every question and clearing up many negative (and gross) myths in the process.

4. Passion for Consumers

Winning brands usually have people behind them that truly have a passion for improving the lives of their consumers. In The Book of Business AwesomeUnMarketing wizard Scott Stratten wrote “companies aren’t awesome, people are” (7). This rings very true for the types of people an organization should hire, and how they should be treating their consumers with respect. Decisions on product features, pricing, distribution, and competitive strategy should be made with the core consumer in mind.

Zappos.com offers a no-questions-asked return policy, a friendly call centre (with no switchboards!), and even features customer service at the forefront of their advertising. Their customer support staff members have gone to great lengths to provide delightful user experiences, and they even offer an insanely spirited tour of their facility in Las Vegas, as noted by Stratten in UnMarketing (123-124).

5. Consistency/Continuity

Finally, even the strongest brands can become diluted and diminish in power if they don’t remain consistent in their approach. With the tens of thousands of marketing messages we are exposed to every day, companies can’t afford to confuse us by changing their positioning and branding too frequently. Instead of rebranding every 1 or 2 years, focus instead on one strong message that can grow and evolve in the long term.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a 168 year-old brand that has benefited from nostalgia-inducing, retro cool packaging. By remaining consistent with their roots in old-fashioned American brewing, the beer has enjoyed a renaissance as a favourite among urban hipsters. Examples abound in the adult beverages industry with some breweries dating back as far as the 11th century.

If we could all create brands infused with these 5 elements, we can ensure a bigger, brighter future— not only for marketing, but for our culture as a whole.

Works Cited:

“Mission, Vision & Values. Coca-Cola-Company.com. Coca-Cola Company. Web. 18 February 2014. <http://www.coca-colacompany.com/our-company/mission-vision-values&gt;.

Jeffers, Gene. Theme Index: The Global Attractions Attendance Report. 2012: 13. TEA/AECOM. Web. 18 February 2014.

Stratten, Scott. The Book of Business Awesome. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012. Print.

Stratten, Scott. UnMarketing. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012. Print.